Rocks in his head: Louisville sculptor Forest Boone commissioned to build a massive mold in Hawaii

Dec 21, 2007 at 7:13 pm

Forest Boone is a sculptor. He makes rocks.
I know what you’re thinking — “Don’t we have enough of those already?” — but these are custom-made fake rocks. Mother Nature would make them if she had the time — and the necessary specs.

Boone, 42, owns Museumrock Products (6330 Strawberry Lane, 376-ROCK, The self-labeled “cast rock people” make artificial rocks from molds for museums, zoos and fellow artists. For most of 2007, Boone has worked on a project he believes will use the largest mold in the world (he’s waiting for confirmation from the Guinness Book of World Records after requesting to add the category “largest mold”). The 136-foot-long, 16-foot-tall, 22-foot-deep Styrofoam and rubber mold will create a cliff-like mountain for the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens, Sculpture Park and Hardwood Plantation in Kilauea on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

He’s a kid in a candy store on this project, for which he’ll tap all of his life’s skills and interests for what he’s calling “his masterpiece.” A native Louisvillian, Boone spent a lot of his childhood staring at the cliffs and rock formations of Lake Cumberland. He attended the art programs at the University of Louisville and Indiana University in Bloomington. After taking a class that combined art and geoscience, the nucleus of an idea was born, culminating in the creation of Museumrock in 1999. “I’ve always been a naturalist,” he says, “and I love the mix of geology and art.” And yes, he’s one of those Kentucky Boones; Forest is a seventh generation nephew of Daniel Boone.

Museumrock Products are not stones laid down by a mason but “a sculpture of a rock, the reverse of what’s normally done, not rocks to carve sculpture,” Boone explains. This botanical garden job couldn’t be done without his knowledge of geology, technology and art that has resulted in six faux rock U.S. design patents. Past local projects include an indoor rock fountain for Service Net corporate headquarters in Jeffersonville, and the rock shelf base for sculptor Ed Hamilton’s “York” on the Belvedere (they are also working together on “Lincoln,” which will be on display at Waterfront Park in 2009).

What makes Boone’s rock formations look so real is his understanding of how nature works. He can talk science, using words like “talus breaks” and “geomorphics.” He furthers the perceived reality by adding plants such as lichens and fungi and by simulating erosion. “I love the power of that,” he says, smiling a big grin — “people scratching their heads,” wondering where he got a specific rock that fits so perfectly.

Boone is also a master colorist. His medium of choice just happens to be pigment poured in sandy grout or concrete instead of painted on canvas or wood. Museumrock relies on a trade secret of iron ores, minerals and oxides that resembles natural coloring. “I specialize in (the look of) sedimentary rock,” he says. “My process lends itself toward this type of layering.”

Museumrock seems the perfect fit for the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens when it was looking for a company to create an escarpment (steep, sloped vertical cliff) as part of a proposed Navajo Indian addition to be completed by mid-2008. Boone’s been developing the monumental $2.2 million design this year, including working with structural engineers at U of L’s Speed School. His first steps in making this project a reality was to produce drawings and scale models, using them to work out design flaws.

He’ll spend January and February in California creating the actual mold. Because precision is so important, he’ll work with the 3-D digitizers at Kreysler & Associates in American Canyon, outside of San Francisco. Then it’s off to Hawaii for the four months or so it will take to actually create the mountain. The mold arrives in Hawaii in 26 house-size containers. The escarpment will be, of course, cast on-site, filled with grout containing 55,000 pounds of pigment that will be poured over a stainless steel rebar support. He’s also bringing in sandstone to complete those realistic Museumrock finishing touches. Add some vegetation, and the result will be a cliff and stone arch-bridge landscape that looks like it was transported straight from Utah.

Boone must be an easy guy to buy a gift for — any rock will do. He collects them when he travels to such places as Wales, Greece and Switzerland. “Charlie Brown was disappointed when all he got was a rock,” he says. “That’s what I want.”

I’m sure he’ll pick up a few in Hawaii — after he leaves them a really big one.

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